Where do patients go for medical information on the Internet?

May 1, 2007

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Most of the traffic goes to "official" government, disease association, and drug maker Web sites, says a study released by Envision Solutions, a New York-based health marketing company. But patients also visit user-generated sites like Wikipedia, bulletin boards, or blogs-in which users can write or edit entries without identification or presentation of credentials.

Specifically, the study found that in a search for "diabetes" on the Google or Yahoo search engines, 31.9% of all traffic went to the American Diabetes Association Web site and 7.9% went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site. Still, in a separate search of eight common, health-related terms (bipolar disorder, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Chantix, depression, diabetes, herpes, Kaiser Permanente, and Lexapro), Wikipedia entries made up nearly 63% of the user-generated media.

As an increasing number of patients use the Internet to seek health information, physicians are encouraged to be aware of the sites that patients are visiting or, at least, know about credible sites to which they can refer patients. "The best approach to patients who use the Internet is to listen carefully to what their concerns are and what they have read, and try to ascertain what sites they use to get their information," AMA Board of Trustees member and ob/gyn Joseph Heyman told American Medical News (3/19/2007). "If they use a reliable site, you can just agree with them (that) what they are planning on is a good idea."